Your Guide to the Real World
|Health Care Benefits||Budget Worksheet|
Finding an apartment: Use www.craigslist.com, Apartment Finder/Guide (find these online or at shopping centers), www.roommates.com, www.homefair.com, the newspaper, or local university. Want to know what the cost of living will be compared to another city? Go to www.homefair.com and check out their cost of living calculator.
Change Addresses With:
- Credit Cards
- Bank Accounts
- Student Loans
- Insurance Companies
- Retirement Funds
- DMV (car regist. & license)
- Post Office
- Cable/Satellite and Internet
Renters Insurance: At about $10 per month, it covers personal property inside the home, and often it covers lawsuits against you due to accidents, injury, or property damage.
Housing/Apartment Checklist: Visit during the day, night, and weekend to evaluate the following.
|Location and Neighborhood||Appliances and Garbage Disposal|
|Carpet and Floors||Water Pressure and how hot/cold it is|
|Paint, Walls, and Ceiling||Toilet Flushes Properly|
|Water Damage (bathroom, kitchen, under sinks)||Amenities (fitness room, pool, laundry, etc.)|
|Doors (do they open/close easily)||Cell Phone Reception|
|Noise Level||Penalty for Breaking Lease|
|Windows, Screens and Blinds||Penalty for Breaking Lease|
|Pests||Commute during busy times|
|Security and Lighting||Ask for average utility costs|
|A/C and Heating||Ask neighbors what they think|
Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans: Subsidized means the government pays the interest on your loans while you are in school. Unsubsidized means that interest accrues on your loans while you’re in school, but you are not required to start making payments on it until after you graduate.
Paying: You will get a grace period of six months before you have to start paying off student loans. If you can’t pay, you can apply for deferment or forbearance if you qualify (unemployment, financial hardship, etc.). Most student loans don’t have a penalty for paying them off early. Some lenders offer discounts if you set up direct deposit as well as make on-time payments.
Payment Plans: Different payment plans may include graduated (lower payments now, and then after a certain period of time the payments increase), income-based (payments are a percentage of your income), standard (same payments throughout).
Consolidation: Most people find it helpful to consolidate their loans. For example: Instead of making three loan payments, you can consolidate your loans with one company and only make one payment.
Complete the budget worksheet by estimating your monthly expenses to determine your salary needs.
Get Organized: Create a filing system for important documents (bill payments, bank statements, investments/retirement, education records, insurance policies, loan information, credit reports, receipts, warranties, taxes, birth certificate, social security card, etc.) and keep them in a fireproof and waterproof safe. Give a copy of important documents to someone you trust. Check your bills (credit card statements, phone bills, etc.) for accuracy and unauthorized use. Also, shred outdated documents.
Track Your Money: Use Mint.com! It will give you a monthly summary of your spending, in categories, so you can understand where your money is going. You can also set up budgets for specific categories. Use www.balancepro.net for financial worksheets, calculators, and planning tools.
Hourly vs. Salary: If you are paid hourly and work 40 hours per week for 50 weeks, multiply your hourly wage times 2,000 to get your yearly salary. If you are paid salary, divide your yearly salary by 2,000 to determine your hourly wage.
Savings:Keep at least $500 in savings (three months of your salary is better). Spend less than you make… if “living the dream” means credit card debt, and that means you’re paying much more for the items you purchase.
Taxes: Income taxes are roughly 20% of your salary (depending on how much you make). If you have the option of taking money from your paycheck before it’s taxed (e.g. retirement, flex healthcare account, health insurance), it might be worth it. When you are hired, you fill out a W-4 tax form and will be asked to choose how many allowances you wish to claim. For most college grads, choosing “0” means you pay more taxes but will get a larger refund, choosing “1” means you are likely paying an accurate amount of taxes, and choosing “2” means you are paying less taxes but will owe money at tax time. Consult a tax professional to decide.
- Buy used (autos, furniture, fitness equipment, etc.).
- Cook for yourself instead of going to restaurants.
- When at a restaurant, order a water.
- Buy generic brands.
- Use coupons, and price shop before buying products/services.
- Reduce or quit smoking.
- Make your own coffee instead of paying $4 at a coffee shop.
- Share living expenses by getting a roommate.
- Reduce your use of heating and air conditioning.
- Cut out cable and/or internet.
- Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation when you can.
- Comparison shop for… everything. Online retailers often have the best prices.
- Avoid overspending on clothes.
- Find cheap/free entertainment, or host a game night for your friends.
Autos: Buy used! Autos typically lose about 45% of their value after the first three years. For every $5,000 you borrow, a loan will cost you about $100 a month for five years (the average length of an auto loan). A new $20,000 car will cost you about $400 a month, whereas that same model three years older will cost you $10,000 or about $200 a month. And the less you have to borrow, the less you will pay in interest. Buying a used car could also save you on auto insurance.
Debt:It is usually best to pay off higher interest loans first, because they cost you more (if your credit card charges you 18% and you only earn 3% in your savings account, put your money towards the credit card). If you have multiple debts, consider consolidating them into one loan.
Debt Reduction Tips: 1) Make bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments. Because interest is accrued daily, making a $100 payment every two weeks instead of a $200 payment every month will pay off your loan faster. 2) Making extra payments or higher payments will also pay your debt off sooner.
How much do you make? The amount you actually make is your salary minus retirement, taxes, and health care benefits (this amount can vary greatly and thus should be a serious concern when choosing one job over another).
Health Insurance: Most employers provide a managed-care plan (HMO, PPO, or POS) or a fee-for-service plan. If your employer doesn’t offer health insurance, it can cost you $130-300 per month (maternity coverage will double this amount). If you need insurance between graduation and getting your first job, your parents policy may cover you until age 26 or the UNCW Health Center may offer coverage for you. If your employer offers health insurance, evaluate the following:
- Premium (monthly amount you pay): some employers cover the entire cost, some split it with you, and some require you to pay 100% of the cost.
- Co-pay: amount you pay for each doctor visit and for prescriptions.
- Deductible: annual amount you have to pay before your insurance starts paying (HMOs don’t require this).
- Vision and Dental Coverage: These may be included in your health insurance. If not, you may have the option to add them for an extra cost.
Life Insurance: Provides a payout after you die to cover burial expenses, paying off outstanding debt, and providing for your family. Debt can only be forgotten after death if there is no money, property, or other assets left behind. If money cannot be collected from your estate, then creditors will likely not go after surviving family members except in rare cases (joint accounts).
Accidental Death and Dismemberment: Provides a payout if you die accidentally (not health related) or lose the use of an arm/leg/finger/etc. (inexpensive).
Disability Insurance: Provides a monthly payout if are unable to do your job if you become disabled (inexpensive).
Flex Account: This allows you to put pre-taxed money into an account in which you can use to pay for medical related expenses. The catch is that you usually have to decide how much to put in at the beginning of the year and whatever you don’t use you lose. Most people stock up on items at the end of the year so as not to lose any money.
Building Credit: It effects approvals for a loan, cell phones, apartment/house, auto insurance rates, and much more. The percentages below reflect how your credit score is calculated.
- (35%) Pay ALL your bills on time (not just credit cards). Only paying the minimum on a credit card doesn’t hurt, but credit card interest rates are high and you’re not reducing your balance (see next bullet).
- (30%) Reduce balances on credit accounts to 30% or less of your available credit (or ask your creditor for an increase in the available credit amount). Closing accounts may actually hurt you if it means going above 30%.
- (15%) Keep old credit accounts, because history is important. Keep in mind, cutting up a card does not cancel the account and also can make you vulnerable to identity theft. Having 2-5 revolving credit accounts, and using them, is usually recommended. Even a small charge and paying it off counts as an on-time payment.
- (10%) Keep inquiries to your credit to a minimum. Each inquiry has a negative impact for a short period.
- (10%) Having a mix of credit (both revolving and installment) can also boost your score.
- Other factors that creditors consider: length of time at present address, length of time and stability of job, if you are a renter or homeowner, amount in savings/retirement accounts, stocks and other holdings, income, and debts.
Credit Reports: You can obtain three free credit reports every 12 months from www.annualcreditreport.com. Requesting your own credit report has no impact on your credit score. If you find an error, use this sample Dispute Letter: www.myfico.com/crediteducation/rights/sampleletter.aspx. Need credit counseling? Visit www.nfcc.org or www.cccsstl.org.
Shop Around: Depending on your insurance company, your payments could be twice as high for the same coverage. Check out North Carolina’s Department of Insurance (or other state if you’re moving) at www.ncdoi.com, and look at the complaint ratios for every insurance company in NC. You can also use an online insurance comparison website such as www.esurance.com, www.insweb.com, www.insurance.com, etc.
Liability Coverage: When you are at fault, this covers injury to people other than yourself and damage to someone else’s property (car, structure, road signs). You are required to have a minimum amount of liability insurance; beyond that it’s up to you. North Carolina requires a minimum of $30,000 worth of coverage for bodily injury for one person; $60,000 of bodily injury coverage for two or more people, and $25,000 of coverage for property damage (written as 30/60/25). Keep in mind that these numbers are the total amount you will receive. For example; if you total a brand new Mercedes worth $70,000, you could get personally sued for the remaining balance of $45,000.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Liability: When you are not at fault, but the other driver has too little or no insurance, this covers your medical expenses and lost wages. (For some companies, this also covers your property.)
Comprehensive and Collision: Regardless of who is at fault, Collision covers your car during a driving accident and Comprehensive covers non-collision damage. For each, you pre-select a deductible amount that you will pay out of pocket for each claim and your insurance company pays for the remaining damage. The higher the deductible, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you drive an older car, this coverage may not be worth the expense. Go to www.kbb.com to see what your car is worth (the “private party” amount is the most accurate).
Medical Payments: Regardless of who is at fault, this covers your medical expenses. Most people opt out of this because these expenses are already covered by their health insurance.
Changing Companies: You can change companies (or your policy) at any time – you don’t have to wait until your policy is over. Notify your old company if you make a switch. (If you don’t, they report you to the credit bureau.)
Retirement: Start now! If you start investing at age 21, instead of waiting until age 29, you will roughly double your money when you retire at 65. If you need $50,000 per year and you live 20 years beyond retirement, you will need at least one million dollars.
- Pension Plan: Employers pay you a guaranteed lifetime income when you retire. Amount of payout depends on various factors. These plans are becoming less common.
- 401(k), 403(b), and 457 Plans: 401(k) plans (for private organizations), 403(b) plans (for non-profit, tax exempt organizations), and 457 plans (for government agencies and some non-profit organizations) allow you to make tax-free contributions (up to a specified amount) and go untaxed until you retire or take the money out.
- Some employers match your contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary. If so, take full advantage of employer matching. Also, this can be a major factor in choosing one job over another.
- Individual Retirement Account (IRA): This is a plan that you set up, and your employer has nothing to do with it. You can only contribute $5,000 per year (as of 2010). There are two types:
- Traditional IRA: Tax deductible contributions (depending on income level), withdraws begin at age 59.5 and mandatory by 70.5 (withdrawals before age 59.5 subject to penalty), and taxes are paid on earnings when withdrawn from the IRA.
- Roth IRA: Contributions are not tax deductible, withdrawals after age 59.5 are tax free (no Mandatory Distribution Age), and principal contributions can be withdrawn any time without penalty (some limitations).
- Withdrawing Funds Early: This will result in a 10% penalty (with some exceptions) in addition to the funds being taxed as taxable income. Because of this significant loss, it’s rare that people withdraw funds early.